Scotland’s top official praised for mental health disclosure

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.
Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

SCOTLAND’S most senior civil servant has been commended for speaking about her personal experience of mental health problems.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she had worked through “several tough and very stressful episodes” in the past, and had seen a health professional at one point.

She shared the information with Scottish Government staff in a personal blog in July, and yesterday made it available publicly on the government’s website.

She said she wanted to help stamp out the stigma surrounding mental ill-health.

Ms Evans had been a low-key figure since being appointed Permanent Secretary in 2015.

But she was thrown into the public spotlight last month when it emerged she had investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond, and the former First Minister launched a legal action against her handling of the case.

Ms Evans did not identify her particular mental health experiences, but they are understood to predate her time in the civil service.

Nicola Sturgeon this week announced an extra £250m for mental health services, particularly those required by young people.

In her “Catch up with Perm Sec” blog on 2 July, Ms Evans included a section on mental health which stressed the importance of good mental health and wellbeing at work.

She wrote: “Last week I took part in an open and frank session at Victoria Quay [the government office in Edinburgh] which reflected on our mental health experiences as individuals, how this informs the culture of our organisation, and where we need to improve mental health and wellbeing support.

“Like many people I have worked my way through several tough and very stressful episodes. What helped me was the support of my line manager, on one occasion seeing a health professional, and the continuing support of my friends and family.

“We all have a role to play in stamping out stigma surrounding mental health and improving our workplace culture.”

Calum Irving, director of See Me, the Scottish campaign to end mental health stigma and discrimination, said: “I was fortunate to hear Leslie speak very passionately about mental health at work and to share her own experience. It is a very challenging thing to do but can have a profound effect, especially coming from people in leadership positions.

“Workplace discrimination because of mental ill health is sadly still commonplace and it prevents people from being treated equally. So concerted action from senior leaders is very much needed, to ensure that we can all live fulfilled lives.”

In recent years, a series of politicians and public figures, including MPs and Prince Harry, have spoken about their experience of mental health.

But Scottish LibDem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was rare for officials to do likewise.

He said: “This is very brave of Leslie and hopefully will give courage to others to come forward and talk about things they might have been going through.

“We often think of the civil service as quite severe and dry place to work. It’s really significant that the most senior civil servant in the land has paved the way for this traditionally quite conservative profession to open up about mental health and I commend her for it.”

Ms Evans is being taken to court by Mr Salmond over her handling of two complaints made against him in January which relate to his time as first minister in 2013.

He is challenging the investigatory process through a judicial review at the Court of Session, drawing on a £100,000 war chest funded by a controversial online appeal.

Ms Evans also referred to Mr Salmond’s case in her blog of 27 August.

She said: “You will appreciate that for legal reasons I am unable to say anything further at this point, but I can assure you that the Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously. I shall update you as and when I can.

“In line with work already underway to tackle inappropriate behaviour, and in consultation with our trade unions, we are carefully considering any issues about culture and working practices.”



Link to The Herald article here  

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MSPs urged to back inquiry into all NHS Tayside mental health services

LABOUR will use a Holyrood debate to urge the Scottish Parliament to back a public inquiry across all NHS Tayside mental health services.

Bosses at the health board have ordered an independent inquiry into a psychiatric unit which turned away a man seeking help who then took his own life.

The inquiry was announced after Labour leader Richard Leonard raised the case of David Ramsay at First Minister’s Questions last week.

Mr Ramsay, 50, took his own life in 2010, four days after he was twice rejected for treatment at the Carseview Centre at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital.

Now Labour wants a full public inquiry into mental health services across the whole region.

The party highlighted that cases of concern would fall outside the current review, including that of Lee Welsh, who took his own life in 2017.

Mr Leonard raised Mr Welsh’s case during his conference speech in March when he first backed the calls for a public inquiry.

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “Holyrood must listen to the families of Tayside and back a full public inquiry into mental health services.

“The tragic case of David Ramsay was not an isolated incident. There are clear problems with mental health services across the region. It is not confined to one unit in one hospital.”

He added: “These families deserve answers. Only a full, independent public inquiry can deliver that.”

Families who have been affected by mental health services in NHS Tayside will be in the public gallery to watch the debate.


Link to Sunday Post article here  

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Inquiry to be held into mental health unit

David Ramsay
Mr Ramsay’s family say his death could have been prevented if the psychiatric unit had given him help when he asked for it

NHS bosses have ordered an independent inquiry into a psychiatric unit following the case of a man who killed himself after being refused admission.

David Ramsay, 50, took his own life in 2016 just days after twice being sent home from the Carseview centre at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Nicola Sturgeon was questioned by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard over the case at Holyrood on Thursday.

NHS Tayside has now announced the care provided by Carseview will be reviewed.

Mr Ramsay’s family has been campaigning for a full public inquiry into mental health provision in NHS Tayside, with his niece Gillian Murray calling for Health Secretary Shona Robison – a Dundee MSP – to stand down.

NHS Tayside chairman John Brown said the “independent assurance report” would examine “how services are delivered at Carseview to address the concerns of some families who have been speaking out about their experiences of mental health services at the centre.”

The health board will take advice from the Mental Welfare Commission on which experts should be tasked with carrying out the work.

As part of the review, they will speak to patients at the centre and their families.

Mr Brown added: “If the report highlights any areas for improvement, or flags up issues where we can learn lessons, we will make any changes required immediately.”

Separately, Public Health Minister Maureen Watt has written to Ms Murray to offer her “sincerest apologies” for the way some of the correspondence between her and the Scottish government had been handled.

Ms Watt said a response she had sent to Ms Murray in April was sent to a mistyped email address – meaning Ms Murray did not receive it.

Ms Murray – a former SNP member who said she had left the party over its “failure” to help with her uncle’s case – has also been invited to meet Ms Watt, Ms Robison or the first minister “at a time and date of Ms Murray’s convenience.”

Responding to the announcement of the review, Ms Murray tweeted that it was a “welcome first step but certainly not the end of the road” and said the family would continue to demand a full public inquiry into mental health services in Tayside.

Speaking on Thursday, she had accused the Scottish government of ignoring the family’s concerns – which was strongly denied by the first minister.

And she said her uncle had “needed that little bit of help” but had been “turned away”, with the hospital “passing the buck to the family”.

‘Evade accountability’

Ms Murray added: “It could happen to anyone – it could be me or you who needs that little bit of help, and he was turned away.

“I was having to Google how to look after a suicidal individual, how to look after somebody with psychosis. That shouldn’t have been left to us.”

She also said resigning would be the “honourable thing” for Ms Robison to do.

Mr Leonard also welcomed the inquiry, but added: “The reality is that it should not have taken years of campaigning by bereaved families – and a tragedy being raised at first minister’s questions – to deliver this limited review.

“Scrutiny should be an essential part of how our public services are run – but instead bosses at NHS Tayside and Shona Robison have attempted to evade accountability at all costs.”

Gillian Murray
Gillian Murray has been campaigning for a public inquiry into mental health services in NHS Tayside

Who was David Ramsay?

Mr Ramsay made three separate attempts at suicide in the space of a week in the autumn of 2016.

His family convinced him to seek urgent help from his GP, who referred him to Carseview because he “required admission”.

Mr Ramsay had two emergency assessments, but was turned away from the centre on both occasions.

His niece told BBC Scotland there had been a catalogue of failures over the handling of her uncle’s case in the days before he killed himself.

She said Mr Ramsay’s death had been preventable as he had told staff “in no uncertain terms” and on separate occasions that he did not want to live and needed help.

What has the health secretary said?

In a statement, Ms Robison welcomed the review, saying that: “People who need mental health services, and their families, should have full confidence that they will receive the highest standards of care when they or their loved ones are in a very vulnerable condition”.

She had earlier tweeted that Ms Murray and her family “have every right to raise their concerns and shouldn’t be criticised for doing so”.

Ms Robison added: “The voices of patients and their families are hugely important in our health service”.



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Health Secretary Shona Robison urged to quit over suicide case

David Ramsay
Mr Ramsay’s family say his death was preventable

Relatives of a man who killed himself after being refused admission to a mental health centre have joined calls for the health secretary to quit.

David Ramsay hanged himself at the age of 50 in 2016 after twice being turned away from the Carseview unit in Dundee.

His family has been campaigning for a public inquiry into mental health services at NHS Tayside.

Their case was raised by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard at First Minister’s Questions.

Nicola Sturgeon strongly denied claims from Mr Leonard that her government had been “silent” over the issue.

Her official later told journalists that the first minister continued to have full confidence in Health Secretary Shona Robison.

Opposition parties have been calling for Ms Robison to be replaced after accusing her of presiding over a series of failings, including a financial crisis at NHS Tayside.

Who was David Ramsay?

Mr Ramsay made three separate attempts at suicide in the space of a week in the autumn of 2016.

His family convinced him to seek urgent help from his GP, who referred him to Carseview because he “required admission”.

Mr Ramsay had two emergency assessments, but was turned away from the centre on both occasions.

His niece, Gillian Murray, told BBC Scotland there had been a catalogue of failures over the handling of her uncle’s case in the days before he killed himself.

She said Mr Ramsay’s death had been preventable as he had told staff “in no uncertain terms” and on separate occasions that he did not want to live and needed help.

Gillian Murray
Gillian Murray has been campaigning for a public inquiry into mental health services in NHS Tayside

Ms Murray added: “It could happen to anyone – it could be me or you who needs that little bit of help, and he was turned away.

“The hospital took no ownership, they took no accountability. They passed the buck to the family – I was having to Google how to look after a suicidal individual, how to look after somebody with psychosis. That shouldn’t have been left to us.”

Ms Murray called for a “change of attitudes” and more funding for mental health, and said a public inquiry was needed for the “many, many lives that have been swept under the carpet”.

And she said Ms Robison – a Dundee MSP – “needs to resign”, adding: “I think that’s the right thing to do, the honourable thing to do.

“She knows about the mental health crisis, she’s ignored other families previously. She knew about the corporate governance scandal [at NHS Tayside]. She can’t bury her head in the sand.

“These are people’s lives that are being taken, and you need to do the decent thing and step down.”

Shona Robison
Shona Robison is said to still have the full confidence of the first minister

Earlier, Mr Leonard told Holyrood that Scotland’s suicide rate was more than twice as high as the rate for Britain as a whole, while in Dundee it had increased by 61% in a year.

And he highlighted a Samaritans report from Wednesday that claimed the Scottish government was not treating the issue of suicide as a top priority.

He asked the first minister: “Why has your government remained silent on this crisis and silent on this demand for a public inquiry?”

He told Ms Sturgeon that Mr Ramsay’s relatives were “yet another family failed by your government”.

Mr Leonard added: “So, first minister, how many more families must be failed? How many families need to suffer before you finally recognise that now is the time for change?”

What has Ms Sturgeon said?

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that her “deep condolences” went out to Mr Ramsay’s family and that the government had been in contact with them.

But she said that while one suicide was one too many, a five-year rolling average showed suicides were on a downward trend in Scotland.

On Carseview, she said: “I don’t think it is right or fair to say that the government has remained silent.”

Ms Sturgeon said Health Secretary Shona Robison had visited the unit and the Mental Welfare Commission had carried out an unannounced inspection in March and made a number of recommendations.

She said: “We expect NHS Tayside to fully respond to those recommendations within three months and they have also, as I understand it, been shared with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

“We will pay very close attention to NHS Tayside’s response and if there is further action that we consider is required, then that action will be taken.”

The first minister said it was “simply not the case” that no action was being taken, adding that the government’s forthcoming suicide prevention strategy would ensure that the best facilities were in place for those who need help.

On the individual case, she said it would be up to the law officers to order a fatal accident inquiry.

Details of organisations which offer advice and support are available at BBC Action Line or you can call for free, at any time, to hear recorded information 0800 066 066.



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We need A&E for mental health and we need it now: Campaigners call for crisis centre to help save lives

Phil Welsh said few people knew his son Lee had mental health issues (Kris Miller / DC Thomson)

MENTAL health A&E units are urgently needed to provide lifeline treatment during crises, according to a leading MSP.

The centres would provide 24/7 access for people enduring acute depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra is campaigning for the Scottish Government to green-light the emergency units, and yesterday said: “My surgery is full of families who suffer mental health problems themselves, who have lost loved ones.

“I think there is an acute need now, an urgent need all across Scotland, for mental health accident and emergency services.

“We need to be honest with ourselves that there are probably more people in our communities facing mental health issues than there are broken limbs.

“Given that this is such a big issue in our communities, this is not a situation that can continue.

“We have crisis teams at the moment but we need to look honestly at more accessible provisions round the clock and let people know that there is a place for them to go when they are at crisis point – or way before that to stop that crisis point from ever happening.”

Edinburgh already has a crisis centre operating, where people can text, phone or email for support. It has been credited with saving many lives over the past 11 years. Glasgow also operates an emergency community triage, which works with the police to provide specialist support, but out-of-hours services are in short supply outside of Scotland’s two major cities.

Mental health is increasingly recognised as a major issue for people’s wellbeing, with 728 Scots taking their own lives in 2016.

Scottish charity the Mental Health Foundation already backs implementing a national roll-out of community triage to provide support to people across the country.

And there is cross-party support for the idea at Holyrood.

Last week at Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon agreed with Ms Marra’s proposals “broadly speaking”, adding the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy releases extra funding for specialists in places such as police stations and prisons.

Overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, suicidal…and saved

The Edinburgh Crisis Centre provides immediate support for people of 16 or older with overwhelming mental health difficulties, such as extreme anxiety or depression, and who may be considering suicide.

Staffed by 13 people, it is open 24/7, 365 days a year and is unique in Scotland in offering quick-access one-to-one and short-stay residential mental health crisis support.

People initially contact the service by email, text or telephone. Centre staff then work with the person to support them through their distress.

A person may be offered a one-to-one session, with meetings set up for the same day. Extended or overnight stays are also available for up to four people at any one time.

Around four people per day contact the centre, in Leith, with numbers up 300% compared to when it opened in August 2006. Binal Lanakhi, who has used the centre on several occasions, says her life has been saved by the service. She added: “They talk to you before things get really bad.”


Who Cares? CEO Duncan Dunlop

The mental health of Scottish children in care has not been assessed by the SNP since it came to power, according to campaigners.

It has been 14 years since the last survey was carried out, when the Office for National Statistics found that almost half of looked-after young people had mental health issues.

Who Cares? Scotland called for everyone who is taken into care to be given a mental health assessment within the same time it would take to get a GP appointment.

Duncan Dunlop, the charity’s CEO, said: “We know that care-experienced people face trauma, either before they enter care or through the process of entering care. Many then go without any form of mental health support or can wait over a year to get it.”

The last assessment was in 2004, when the Labour and Lib Dem coalition government at Holyrood examined the welfare of five to 17-year-olds in care.

It found that 45% of those who were assessed had mental health issues.

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said that the government-funded Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice published a research paper on young people in secure care last October.

She added: “The paper presents key messages and calls for action about secure care from care experienced young people.”

But Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “There is an urgent need to carry out more research into the mental health issues surrounding looked-after children.”


Link to Sunday Post article here

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‘I’m just a mum desperate to make a change’

Annette McKenzie
“I let them see the rawness of a mother desperate to try and make a change

Annette McKenzie lost her daughter to suicide a year and a half ago.

The pain has never left but she says she is using it to fight for the mental health of everyone else’s sons and daughters.

Exactly a year since the Glasgow mother presented her petition to committee at Holyrood, she feels she is finally getting somewhere.

MSPs are listening to her plea to improve the way children are treated and the way doctors prescribe powerful medication.

It hasn’t been an easy year.

Annette’s own health has deteriorated, suffering anxiety and angina, or what she calls “a broken heart”.

Her eldest daughter Britney has been gone for 18 months, but the loss is no easier to bear.

“Life since then to be honest has been a lot harder, a lot more raw.

“When I stood in front of the Petitions Committee last January I was on auto pilot and full of medication.

“But I could at least do simple things then. That’s changed. My health’s worse now – I have angina.

“I know my heart’s been affected but it’s a broken heart, from so many lows of the past year – Britney’s 18th in October was by far the hardest yet.”

Britney Mazzoncini
Britney died after taking an overdose

Britney Mazzoncini was being bullied online.

She went to her GP with depression and suicidal thoughts and was prescribed a month’s supply of Propanol, an anti-anxiety drug.

Just over a fortnight later, she took an overdose and died at their family home in Glasgow.

Annette had no knowledge her daughter was taking the medication.

She lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament asking for a rethink on the way GPs treat mental health conditions in young people.

She wants GPs to be unable to prescribe anti-depressants to under-18s without the knowledge of their parents.

MSPs have ordered more information on whether children are prescribed anti-depressants as “the first port of call or the last port of call”.

Annette sees this as a turning point in her fight.

She said: “For me this is about the minister for mental health agreeing we have a real problem with teens and treatment and the way we treat children.

“No child should go on a first visit to a GP with depression and leave with any medication without being referred first to someone who deals with mental health.”

Annette McKenzie and her late daughter Britney
Annette McKenzie’s daughter Britney took her own life after suffering online bullying

She wants the change for her other daughter and for her son and everyone else’s sons and daughters.

Young people contact her with similar problems: “The number of young people who have reached out to me, who I’ve spoken with and helped to get in contact with someone who can help them has helped me too.

“I’ve even had messages from people who said they were going to end their life but once reading my Facebook wall – the stuff I keep public – and watching my videos they say they can’t leave their parents in the pain I’m in.

“It’s bitter sweet – Britney’s story is saving not only her friends who knew her but also people she never knew and for me that’s a positive thing.”

Annette takes comfort in watching Britney’s friends living their lives to the full and never taking for granted what they have.

She wants to talk to as many young people as possible and get them to help each other when they have mental health issues or concerns for each other.

And at the end of the petition she named Britney’s Plea, Annette wants at the very least to see better guidelines for GPs when prescribing medication for young people.

She said: “Hopefully they will agree to bring in place new training for GP’s and I also hope they make it that no child or person is given pills on a first-ever visit to a GP.

“I want them to have to be referred and seen by a mental health professional before any treatment is given.

“If that had been in place with Britney she wouldn’t have been given those pills.”

She wants more discussion of the issues.

“I don’t want this to be the end.

“I want to be out there helping people, taking to them about mental health – about Britney.”

If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, click here or you can call for free, at any time, to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066


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